Recent articles have popped up about a medical study which reported that subjects who meditated for 15 minutes and were subsequently asked to complete a task “reported being demotivated”. Unfortunately, multiple media outlets have picked up on this tidbit, and are presenting some strongly-biased commentary on the study. Some news channels are having an anti-meditation heyday with this recent experiment, conducted with 109 adult subjects.
There are several things about this study that are notable, but missing from most of the reporting:
1. What is NOT being talked about is the fact that most of the tasks requested of those who had meditated were defined – by the researchers themselves – as “mundane”. It should not come as a surprise that a deepened sense of awareness, brought about by meditation, would result in a lessened commitment to engaging with what appears to be a dull activity. Yes, boring work is necessary, but having to do something tedious normally produces demotivation – whether one has meditated or not.
2. In addition, there seems to be no mention of the fact that the researchers noted that “mindfulness enabled people to detach from stressors, which improved task focus”. Isn’t this an outstanding observation? Knowing that meditation can improve focus is a litmus test for its usefulness in the workplace (as well as other aspects of our lives). Yet the majority of the articles haven’t reported this finding.
3. Finally, one of the most important conclusions that is also being omitted from much of the media coverage of this study is – I believe – critical to understanding the appropriateness of meditation and mindfulness overall. The scientists were able to empirically conclude that “mindfulness did not impair performance”. Wow! Why isn’t this the lead headline in these stories?!?! This is a long way from the banner under which one of these articles was presented: “Mindfulness Meditation Impairs Motivation in the Workplace”. (Interestingly, the two researchers who conducted this experiment titled their paper “Mindfulness Meditation Impairs Task Motivation but Not Performance”. Why, in so many cases, were those final 3 words omitted from the reporting on this story?)
I remember how, in its earliest days, the internet was vilified by pundits and news providers for a host of reasons…many of them utter nonsense or scaremongering. The reporting about the big, bad World Wide Web would’ve had people believe that there was nothing beneficial about these new technologies and connections. Indeed, we all needed to be afraid and skeptical.
It seems as though we are going through a similar cycle with regard to how meditation and mindfulness are occasionally described by media outlets. Now that these tools are being introduced into the workplace, and accepted by the general public, there is sometimes a suspicion that it’s too good to be true. How can something so simple be so powerful?
There has been an uptick in recent years in the number of reputable studies on mindfulness and meditation, and this is gratifying to see. In order to get the maximum benefit from mindfulness practices, we need to know why things work as they do, which is where academic research can be most helpful. But we need to ensure that the findings are reported without bias.
This is a good reminder to dig beyond the headlines and check the sources of any article. Which is, of course, a mindful way to read and learn!
Submitted: August 9, 2018 Copyright © Lee Godfrey, 2018